Counseling Center Addresses Increased Student Demand

Drew Edmonds

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Illustration by Eddy Vazquez.

In November, the Associated Students of Whitman College Senate passed a resolution to support the creation of an additional counseling position specializing in responding to issues of diversity. This month, the Counseling Center decided to go through with hiring a new counselor in accordance with the resolution.

The addition of another counselor is a response to the increasing demand and sometimes limited availability of counseling services on campus. Students and counseling center staff have both voiced their concerns about the importance of readily accessible counseling, and the administration has answered.

“Students initiate contact with the counseling center because of a concern they have right now, at that moment. It is in the best interest of students to be able to respond to them quickly when they ask for help,” said 23-year veteran Whitman counselor and current Assistant Director of Counseling Tracee Anderson.

Though Whitman students have always been willing to seek support from counseling resources, a number of factors have contributed to increased demand for services, both nationally and at Whitman specifically.

In 1982, when Counselor Sharon Kaufman-Osborn arrived at Whitman, she started working part-time at the center.

“The first year I was here, there were hardly any other younger faculty here and not a lot of women. What was also really striking to me was that there was no gay support group,” says Kaufman-Osborn.

Since Kaufman-Osborn began working at Whitman, she has noticed a more diverseĀ group of staff members and students on campus. This trend is mirrored nationwide, contributing to the increased demand for counseling in the past 20 years.

According to Kaufman-Osborn, more students now are leaving for college with fewer internal and external resources to deal with the challenging transition that college involves. More students enter college with prior experience in therapy and difficult family circumstances. And these days, she says, there is simply a greater acceptance toward seeking mental health assistance.

“Asking for help is more normalized. There are many more students now who come from divorced parents, students who are dealing with and feel more comfortable discussing anxiety, depression or other distresses. There is still a stigma, but we are more outspoken about it now,” said Kaufman-Osborn.

Anderson adds that the current generation of college students is under more scrutiny than previous ones.

“The challenges in life for this generation are greater. There is a lot more pressure to do more with less and the competition to succeed and thrive is very stressful,” said Anderson.

The new position, officially approved this month, attempts not only to increase the number of general clinicians but also to further what many colleges across the country have been working on over the past decade.

“All colleges have worked hard to make sure that any student [who] is admitted can succeed,” said Anderson.

The new position currently being advertised is intended to further this objective.

“Whitman College seeks a Counseling Center therapist who will serve as a generalist clinician with specialist focus on therapy and outreach to underrepresented and underserved student populations, including individuals from ethnically and racially diverse backgrounds and individuals representing varying sexual orientations,” said Director of Counseling Thacher Carter in an email response.

Anderson notes that many capable students come to college with physical and mental obstacles, and colleges have improved the way they handle these students.

“What we do right now is better than what we’ve ever done before,” said Anderson.

One of the most notable recent changes to the Counseling Center is a minor shift in scheduling that has accommodated the vast numbers of new students seeking counseling.

Before Carter arrived to the Counseling Center two years ago, the center would schedule first-time appointments whenever there was an opening.

“Sometimes students that wanted to come in but didn’t have an emergency had to wait weeks to even get a single appointment,” said Anderson.

Now the Counseling Center has instituted “intake times,” where two to three hours each day are set aside for walk-in appointments. Any student can drop in, fill out a quick form and meet one-on-one with a professional clinician to make a decision about the best way to address the situation.

“This [change] is terrific. Even when we aren’t able to see every student that comes in that day, we can at least assess the urgency and what the concerns are and get them in as soon as possible,” said Anderson.

The improvements made to the Counseling Center over the years, and the potential for further support with the introduction of the new staff member this fall underline a fundamental aspect of effective counseling: the need for awareness of diverse needs and perspectives.

“Once we can understand what students are bringing in to school, we can better respond to their needs. The world changes, and we need to be thoughtful and conscientious about all of our students,” said Anderson.

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